Air Quality Definitions/Vocab

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Indoor Air Quality Definitions/Glossary

  1. Aerosol: A dispersion in air of liquid droplets or solid particles, which range in size from 0.01 to 100µm and which can remain suspended in air for some period of time.
  2. Antimicrobial: Agent that kills microbial growth. See disinfectant, sanitizer, and sterilizer.
  3. Bacteria: One-celled organisms, members of the Protista, a biological classification.
  4. Bioaerosol: An aerosol of biological material, such as microorganisms or body fluids
  5. Breathing zone: Area of the room in which occupants reathe as they stand, sit, or lie down.
  6. Disinfectant: One of three groups of antimmicrobials registered by EPA for public health uses. EPA considers an antimicrobial to be a disinfectant when it destroys or irreversibly inactivates infectious or other undesirable organisms, but not necessarily their spores. EPA registers three types of disinfectant products based upon submitted efficacy data: limited, general or broad spectrum, and hospital disinfectant
  7. Ergonomics: Applied science that investigates the impact of people’s physical environment on their health and comfort (e.g., determining the proper chair height for computer operators).
  8. Fungi: may be unicellular or multicellular organisms which do not carry out photosyntheseis. Murshrooms, yeasts, and molds are fungi. Mildew describes the coatings or discolorations caused by fungi on objects when exposed to moisture.
  9. Hypersensitivity diseases: Diseases characterized by allergic responses to pollutants. The hypersensitivity diseases most clearly associated with indoor air quality are asthma, rhinitis, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare but serious disease that involves progressive lung damage as long as there is exposure to the causative agent.
  10. Microorganisms: Life forms too small to be viewed by the unaided eye.
  11. Microbiological: An adjective that describes anthing which pertains to Microbiology, which is a branch of biology dealing with microorganisms.
  12. Off-gassing: Release of gases such as organic vapors, from a building material after the manufacturing process is complete.
  13. Pollutant pathway: Route of entry of an airborne contaminant from a source location into the occupant breathing zone through architectural or mechanical connections (e.g., through cracks in walls, vents, open windows.
  14. Psychosocial factors: Psychological, organizational, and personl stressors that could produce symptoms similar to poor indoor air quality.
  15. Sanitizer: One of three groups of antimicrobials registered by EPA for public heath uses. EPA considers an antimicrobial to be a sanitizer when it reduces but does not necessarily eliminate all the microorganisms on a treated surface. To be a registered sanitizer, the test results for a product must show a reduction of at least 99.9% in the number of each test organism over the parrallel control.
  16. Soil gases: Gases that enter a building from teh surrounding ground (e.g., radon, volatile organic compounds)
  17. Sterilizer: One of three groups of antimicrobials registered by EPA for public health uses. EPA considers an antimicrobial to be a sterilizer when it destroys or eliminates all forms of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their spores. Because spores are considered the most difficult form of a microorganism to destroy, EPA considers the term sporicide to be synonymous with sterilizer.
  18. Tracer gases: Compounds, such as sulfur hexafluoride, which are used to identify suspected pollutant pathways and to quantify ventilation rates. Trace gases may be detected qualitatively by their odor or quantitatively by air monitoring equipment.
  19. Viruses: are considered part of the microbial world, but they are really not organisms because they are not cells. A Virus particle is a piece of genetic material protected by a surrounding protein coat.
  20. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Compounds that vaporize (become a gas) at room temperature. Common sources which may emit VOCs into indoor air include housekeeping and maintenance products, and building and furnishing materials. In sufficient quantities, VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritations, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, memory impairment; some are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur at the levels of VOCs typically found in public and commercial buildings.

More Information

For more information, or to request a professional indoor air quality consultation:

  1. Hays, Steve M (1995) Indoor Air Quality Solutions and Strategies. McGraw-Hill Inc., 22
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